Topics: Family, Young adult, Youth Pages: 12 (3875 words) Published: June 15, 2014

Robyn Hartley

The circumstances and the timing of young people leaving home change with social, cultural and economic developments. In Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, leaving home was closely associated with marriage, employment and education. In particular, the shift to earlier marriages between 1940 and 1970 meant that young people left home earlier during this period. In the 1970s, the age at which they left remained about the same, but their reasons for doing so changed. As early marriage declined, the drop in those who left to marry was matched by those who left to form de facto relationships, and a greater percentage than previously, particularly young men, left to be independent (McDonald 1993).

Further changes occurred in the 1980s, with dramatic increases in the numbers of young people staying on at school to Year 12, increasing numbers undertaking post- secondary education, the virtual disappearance of full-time employment for 15-19-year-olds and, later in the decade, as the recession hit, rising unemployment for 20-24-year-olds. Now, in the early 1990s, young people are more likely to be living with their parents than previously, more likely to be partly dependent financially on parents even if they have left home, and more likely to leave and return home at least once as their circumstances change. At the 1991 Census, 40 per cent of 20-24-year-olds lived with their parents, compared with 35 per cent in 1979.

These are the broad trends. But as well as being related to broader social and economic factors, decisions about leaving home should be seen in a family context because the experience of going or staying is essentially a personal and individual experience. For young people and their parents, whatever the circumstances, emotions are rarely neutral. Young people leave home willingly or reluctantly. They leave with confidence, hope and a sense of adventure. They leave with trepidation and anxiety, in fear, disgrace and despair. They may be encouraged out, helped out, pushed out, run out. They may be clung to, cried over, exhorted to stay. When the young leave, parents sigh with relief, weep for the loss, fear the worst, hope for the best. Some parents experience all of these reactions.

For most young people, leaving home is a process occurring over time rather than a single event, and is a decision rarely made on the spur of the moment. Planning, imagining and fantasising about the experience before taking the step is often valuable preparation for the real thing.

This article is about staying rather than leaving. In view of the trend for young people to stay at home longer, and to leave and return, information from the Institute's 1990 Becoming Adult Study is drawn on to explore the reasons why a group in their early twenties had not left home, why some had left and returned sometimes more than once, the effect of family resources on decisions to stay with parents, and what the trends mean for parenting.

The respondents were 138 young adults interviewed at age 23; they had also been interviewed seven years previously when they were aged 16. At the time of the second interview, 27 per cent of the women and 49 per cent of the men were living with parents. These figures are consistent with estimated national figures for 23-year-olds living with parents in 1993 (that is, 25 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men). The majority of respondents who had left home at least once did so in the late 1980s. The median age for males first leaving home was 19.5 years and for females, 18.8 years. Around 50 per cent had returned home at least once.


The majority of 23-year-olds who had not yet lived away from home were young men, in particular, men who in their adolescence were from two-parent families. Thirty-three per cent of men (compared with 16 per cent of women) had never left home and 45 per cent of men from two-parent families (compared with 15 per...
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